The word family comes from the Latin word familia which means household. This seems to be fitting since they both seem synonymous. In the dictionary the definition of family is a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head or a group of persons of common ancestry. The definition of household is those who dwell under the same roof and compose a family or a social unit comprised of those living together in the same dwelling. Even the definitions are very similar, yet they have come to mean two very different things in our modern day world.
As time evolves so does the clarity of what makes up a family and the function of family and household are. “Families are affected by, and in turn affect, the values and structure of the society, in which they are embedded” (Haviland 2002: 245). This statement says so much about what families are and why they differ so much from one culture to the next. They fill the needs of each particular group. In America the “family” has changed dramatically over the past few decades as the country, itself, has changed.
In the 1950’s and sixties the roles of each member of the family were more distinct and defined. The mother and the father were a married couple who stayed together. The mother did not work outside of the home, except in extreme circumstances or cases. She took care of the children and the home. The father was the “bread winner” and did very little work inside the home. Today most families either have both parents working or they are single parent families, or families divided by divorce.
The changes to what comprises our families have also evolved to included families with gay parents; having either two mothers or two fathers or combined families from re-marriages with step-parents and siblings. In these families their function is one of raising independent children who will grow up to become better than the generation before them. And in many cases they also function as an emotional and monetary support for each other; helping each other to obtain their goals of independence.
In many other cultures their definition of what a family is very different of that of Americans. In most of these cultures family provides a more important role, one of survival. These family groups usually consist of much larger groups than just the parents and any children. These groups often include grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and their spouses and all children and in some cases other families of the same make up. In the Dada tribe they live by a patri-local custom of always living with the husbands family.
Although this custom sometimes causes problems between the woman and their in-laws it is still a practice that they maintain because having the men move away would threaten the economics of their community and their well-being (Abrams & Bishop 1994: “Family and Household”). In the Asante tribe they are also patri-local, in the sense that the new wives must move and live with their husbands family but in their customs all inheritance is through the mother and they also practice polygamy so the fathers are often not involved with the complete well-being of their children.
Because of this many mothers set up their own individual household and create work for themselves in order to earn something to give to their children (Abrams & Bishop 1994:”Family and Household”). Both of the above examples provide examples of how family means different things but mostly because their culture has different needs than that of another. The term household and how it relates to each culture is a little harder to define. In America household usually means the nuclear family and where they reside. Household is very independent and for the most part, does not depend on others.
In other cultures it can mean the same thing yet where and how they reside is a lot different in some cases. In cultures where they move frequently their household would be where ever they choose to reside at that time. But, in these cultures their households are very different in the sense that they are usually large groups who have a great dependence on one another. These households do not necessarily contain relatives whereas American households do. Households are usually put and kept together for economic and stability reasons.
They help to provide the basic necessities of life for each of its members. When I think about family and household it usually brings to mind two things; where I live and who I live with. Although, this is the case with many people, especially those in American society, I have come to realize how it is really so much more complex. Families make up our society and define who we are and what we become. They teach us what is important and what to value along with what is irrelevant. Our families provide us with the necessary tools to survive and keep our people going from one generation to the next.
I have learned that the definitions of family and household are broad and diverse and that to know one does not mean you know another. What makes up either one of these two things is all about the culture and the society that we live in. But, it also made me realize that no matter how divergent our families and households are they all seem to fulfill the same basic need of survival. We just go about it in different ways. So, no matter where you live or who you live with you are still just learning how to live and that is what we all have in common.